Christianity 201

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

July 3, 2019

Paul’s Noble List of Qualities and Characteristics

The Voice.I Cor.6.9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.

The Voice.Gal.5.19 It’s clear that our flesh entices us into practicing some of its most heinous acts: participating in corrupt sexual relationships, impurity, unbridled lust, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, contentiousness, division, 21 envy of others’ good fortune, drunkenness, drunken revelry, and other shameful vices that plague humankind. I told you this clearly before, and I only tell you again so there is no room for confusion: those who give in to these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the second time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. You are strongly encouraged to click the header below and read the article in its entirety.

Fruits of the Spirit

…Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors [in the above verses] “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed… So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?

Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves…

First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…

Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.

     Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  [Ecc 3:4] …

Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.

PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.

If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.

Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!

Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.

GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.

FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.

That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?

GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.

Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”

Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.

My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.

June 11, 2019

Those Who Don’t Share Show by Their Actions They Don’t Know Him

It was either an email or a referral from another writer we feature here, but sometime late last week we got connected to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

There are similarities to C201, as he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. The site is a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’ve featured it both yesterday and today. Click the header below to read this at source.

A.W. Tozer: Abundant Goodness

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They tell of the power of Your awesome works—and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:3-9

“The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.

That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end ill the negation of every moral judgment.

If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven. The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

Julian of Norwich, who lived six hundred years ago, saw clearly that the ground of all blessedness is the goodness of God. Chapter six of her incredibly beautiful and perceptive little classic, Revelations of Divine Love, begins, “This showing was made to learn our souls to cleave wisely to the goodness of God.”

Then she lists some of the mighty deeds God has wrought in our behalf, and after each one she adds “of His goodness.” She saw that all our religious activities and every means of grace, however right and useful they may be, are nothing until we understand that the unmerited, spontaneous goodness of God is back of all.”

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) in “The Goodness of God” in Knowledge of the Holy, 57.

God’s abundant goodness serves as the basis or foundation for all of our living, giving, serving, and loving. See for yourself. Read Psalm 145. Consider verse 16, in which David proclaims: You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The reason we live with openhanded generosity is because that’s God’s posture toward every living thing. Those who know and understand Him for who He is will enjoy and share His goodness and kindness.

The sobering truth is that those who don’t share, show by their actions that they don’t know Him.

This thinking is echoed much later by Julian of Norwich, an anchoress, who (of course) reminds me of my wife, Jenni, who serves God as the Soulcare Anchoress. Those who adopt the title “anchoress” (or anchorite) imply that they have discovered by knowledge and experience that all of life must be anchored in one thing alone, the goodness of God, which is why relationship with Him (and obedience to Him) must be pursued above all else.

Rather than lose you with what sounds like lofty thinking, let me make my point.

Because of the abundant goodness of God, we can be kind and generous. But will we be kind and generous? As His blessings flow to us, the only way to rightly receive and share them is to know and have a deep relationship with Him. Out of that anchored relationship, we become like Him when we walk in obedience, and then with righteousness, justice, and open hands, we dispense His abundant goodness and kindness.

If that went over your head, then read Psalm 145, count your blessings, and think how you can bless others today and this week as a result.

April 17, 2019

Wounded by a Fellow Soldier

This week we haven’t focused specifically on the Passion Week of Jesus as we have in other years. Today’s theme seems equally disconnected, until one considers the betrayal Jesus suffered from Judas, and the betrayal inflicted by Peter. Two of his own disciples.

Today we’re returning to Jeffrey Youngblood, who writes at Thoughts of a Blessed Man. Click the header below to read at source.

Friendly Fire

For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.- CS Lewis

Friendly fire is a devastating term. In warfare,  it is the term indicating that someone has sustained a wound from a source that is unlikely, their compatriot, comrade, fellow-soldier, and friend.

Can you imagine receiving a mortal wound from someone fighting for the same cause as yourself? Could you imagine being the one that inflicted this wound?

I am currently reading a book about US Grant, and it describes the devastating blow that the Confederate States of America sustained  when Stonewall Jackson was cut down by friendly fire in the heat of the battle. For many, they felt that this one man’s death was a catalyst for the Union armies to ultimately win the Civil War.

Friendly fire is almost certainly accidental. The term for non-accidental friendly fire is called murder…

Peter may have experienced a glancing blow during his walk with God, or sustained a devastating blow himself a time or two. In his second letter he wrote that if someone was going to make their calling and election certain there had to be somethings that were added to the Christians life. Faith was essential, and was the starting point. Obviously this makes sense, because Paul reported that our first line of defense as we are armored in the Lord’s army was the shield of faith.

Without faith we know that “it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.(Hebrews 11:6).

Peter does not stop there to ensure our calling. He said on top of faith, add good character or virtue. Have integrity. Do things the right way all the time regardless the circumstances. Then he admonishes to utilize your knowledge to supplement your good character.

Knowledge of what? What side are you on? We are not wrestling against mankind. Paul in Ephesians said we are wrestling against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. We know that the enemy of our soul is after us. We know that he is trying to destroy us.

So now our faith has been supplemented with virtue and knowledge, but we still are not done. We are still going through the credentialing process of our calling. Peter said that self-control should be betrayed in our actions/lifestyle. Then we have to be consistent and try to mirror the image that God has given us in his word.

People should be able to see Jesus in our lives, and Peter said that the only way people are going to be able to see Jesus present in our world is by supplementing the faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and godliness with brotherly kindness.

Paul said it this way…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

Only after we begin to love our brothers and sisters, and take every opportunity not to cause harm, can we affirm that we have charity that can be added to our faith. In this case we are able to affirm to Jesus Christ that we have taken necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is certain.

The will of God is going to be accomplished with or without us. Are we going to inflict “friendly fire” like Judas? Are we taking the necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is above reproach?

Jesus still went through with obtaining our salvation on the cross, but Judas did not have to be the catalyst to ensure his “friend” was murdered.

Take careful aim today. Who do you find in the cross hairs?

 

April 1, 2019

Fruitful: Even if You Don’t Get the Credit

Today marks the beginning of Year Ten here at Christianity 201.

The first article was posted on April 1st, 2010 in an attempt to keep a Biblical focus, and differentiate this writing from Thinking Out Loud, which deals with faith-related issues, Christianity and culture, and current events.

Thanks to all of you for your support for the past nine years.

Col 1 : 10( NIV) …live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

Balanced Christian LifeA tree might look healthy because it is leafy green, but if its purpose is to bear fruit, all that greenery counts for nothing.

As true as that principle is, it’s also possible for one person to be the planter, or the pruner; while someone else entirely reaps the harvest or collects the fruit.

One of the frustrations of online ministry is you don’t always get a lot of feedback; neither do you see the people who are being influenced by what is posted each day. Statistics report that several hundred people land here each day, but I have no idea if the readings are helpful; if they like the videos; if they enjoyed checking out a particular writer’s website.

It’s also possible that many readers find a website which especially resonates with them and end up making that their daily habit instead of this. Of course, that result was built into the design of this page. There is so much Christian writing available; some of it relates more to intellectuals than those less educated; some to women more than men; some to people of certain denominational persuasions more than others.

I was reminded today of this passage in I Corinthians 3:

…4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it…

(continue reading full chapter in the NLT)

Matthew Henry writes:

…Both [people, i.e. Paul and Apollos] were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. Note, God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. Note, The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing: Neither he that plants is any thing, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3:7. Even apostolic ministers are nothing of themselves, can do nothing with efficacy and success unless God give the increase. Note, The best qualified and most faithful ministers have a just sense of their own insufficiency, and are very desirous that God should have all the glory of their success. Paul and Apollos are nothing at all in their own account, but God is all in all…

We know a lot about Paul, but when we connect the dots of scripture, we actually know a lot about Apollos as well.ChristianAnswers.net tells us:

This is the name of a Jew “born at Alexandria,” a man well versed in the Scriptures and eloquent (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus (about A.D. 49), where he spoke “boldly” in the synagogue (18:26), although he did not know as yet that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Aquila and Priscilla instructed in “the way of God”, i.e., in the knowledge of Christ. He then proceeded to Corinth, where he met Paul (Acts 18:27; 19:1). He was very useful there in watering the good seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 1:12), and bringing many to Christ. His disciples were very attached to him (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22). He was with Paul at Ephesus when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Paul makes kind reference to him in his letter to Titus (3:13). (Scripture reference links are KJV.)

One of our former pastors would constantly say, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” In today’s world, it also takes all types of websites, blogs and forums to reach out to an internet-wired world. But as I write this, it’s true that I often long to hear reports of the fruit of this ministry in the lives of readers.

I believe strongly that while we all may be instrumental in the discipleship process of people in our sphere of influence, we should also be know the joys of being reapers of the fruit of ministry. We should all experience Paul-Timothy mentoring relationships. We should all know what it means to reproduce ourselves in the lives of others and even the next generation.

Furthermore, we see Jesus’ attitude toward fruit-bearing ministry in Matthew 21’s story of the fig tree:

18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (NLT)

Ask yourself: Are my efforts for the Kingdom of God bearing fruit, or just putting out leaves?

~PW

October 14, 2018

The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Worship

“My ego always struggles with acknowledgment. I not only want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) I want them to get together and start an avalanche of applause because I’ve done it.”
~Jim Thornber at (the other) Thinking Out Loud.

The above quote isn’t directly connected to today’s thoughts, but it was contained in one of four posts I read yesterday at Jim Thornber’s website, Thinking Out Loud. This is his eleventh time here at C201. Click the title below to read at source, to read a small piece of Jim’s story, click here.

Got Character?

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3)

A few years ago, a church I attended in Arkansas hosted a Thanksgiving service to raise money for the ministerial alliance. The alliance asked our church to lead in the praise and worship, and I played the piano on the worship team. Looking over the congregation, I noted a pastor from another church who, no matter what we sang, refused to either clap his hands or raise them in worship. He simply sat in his pew with his arms folded.  That struck me as strange, because outside of church he was a happy, vivacious, demonstrative man.

I have never been known for my extreme subtly or bashfulness, so as we gathered for refreshments after the service, I questioned him his about posture. “Why, when Scripture instructs you to lift up holy hands to the Lord, and you have a chance to do so in a public service, did you sit with your arms folded across your chest?”

“Well, you see,” he began to stammer and laugh, “I’m a . . . .” and he named his denomination. I cut him off and said, “Are you a denomination first or a Christian first?”

At this point, he began to look around for help from the people who had gathered, including my pastor. He asked, “Is he always like this?” to which my pastor replied, “Hey, he’s going easy on you.” And everybody who had gathered around laughed.

I find it sad that many church members (or goers) around the world are more concerned with offending their denomination and the people in the next pew than they are in obeying the Word of God. The congregation led by the pastor in my story will have trouble obeying Scripture because he was not setting an obedient example. In a simple sense of the word, this pastor lacked character.

Regarding His eternal relationship to God, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (1:3). James Moffat says He was “stamped with God’s own character.” The phrase “exact representation” translates the Greek word charaktēr, which gives us our English word “character.”

Originally, this word meant to cut, to scratch, to mark. It indicated the tool or agent that did the marking, and eventually came to mean the mark or the impression that was made. It also indicated an impression made in a wax seal. Or, think of a coin: its image, numbers and letters bear the exact image of the raised numbers and letters of the original die from which the coin was cast. To see a dime or a quarter is to know exactly what the original die or stamp looked like.

Jesus said, Anyone who has seen me has seen the father (John 14:9). This is true, because He was the “exact representation” of God, “stamped with God’s own character.” To see Jesus is to see God, for He is the exact image of God, the perfectly engraved representation of the very nature of God.

This brings up a very difficult question, especially for me: “If to see Jesus is to see the Father, then, when people see me, do they see Jesus?” As I was looking for the Christ-like qualities in that pastor, I began to wonder:

  • When I am at my church, what do people first see in me —   ­­­­­­­­­the Kingdom of God or a denominational version of God?
  • Am I stamped with the very character of God?
  • Do people see Jim or Jesus?
  • As a disciple of Jesus, am I exhibiting the character of Christ the way that Jesus the Son bore the character of God the Father?
  • When people see the church out working in the world, whose character do they perceive? Are they seeing the compassion, mercy, patience, and love of God, or do they see the values of MTV, ABC, Wall Street, Hollywood, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health?

We must all ask those tough questions if we are going to live the character of Christ and represent God in all we say and do. Jesus said,  Now I want to be able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen Jesus.” Maybe one day, at my funeral, some kind soul will say, “Jim was the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met.”  Then I’ll know I got character.


 

May 30, 2018

A Holy Discontent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:40 pm
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Subscribers: We’re unable to account for Wednesday’s devotional here. There are a couple of theories! We know you want your money’s worth, so we’re sending you this one tonight as a bonus.

Sarnia, Ontario pastor Rev. Kevin Rogers is one of the longest-running and most frequently-appearing authors here at Christianity 201. I can always count on him to have a thought-provoking article centered on scripture at his blog, The Orphan Age. Click the title below to read at source.

Lead the Way

Have you ever sat back waiting for your leaders to show the way? While that is in their wheelhouse, they sometimes hesitate or hold back from truly leading because they are distracted, hurt or side-tracked. I know that I have been there at times but, what a difference when a leader steps up and takes the risk.

The Book of Judges was written about a time in Hebrew history when God’s people were oppressed, disobedient and powerless. Through that time God kept raising up leaders with holy discontent.

They would not settle for the lethargy and hopelessness that prevailed. We need some more voices in our time that tell us to cast down our idols and lean into God like never before.

Judges Chapter Five is entitled ‘The Song of Deborah.’ She was a leader that God raised up to inspire God’s people to do something. There are a few verses that I want us to consider in light of where and how we live today.

Judges 5:

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

When people willingly offer themselves, we all say ‘Praise the Lord!’ It happens always to people and leaders who have their heart captured by God. There are strategic moments in life when we cannot stand status quo for one more minute. We get weary and disturbed by the oppression of the enemy and have to do something. There is a growing sense that we need to trust God again and something like a song is happening in our soul.

Max Lucado said,

God chooses the person with the strongest character to lead His people to victory at crucial times. The key elements for such leadership are faith, trust, and worship. *

You may not feel as if you are the most qualified, but there is an urgency and demand on your life that must be met– and that is when you need to respond to God with next steps. Faith, trust and worship. Come on now… lead the way.


* Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (NKJV)

May 5, 2018

Don’t Ask God for Patience!

Once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery who, as I mentioned previously, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered online. Click the title below to read this on her blog, Practical Faith.

Be careful what you pray for!

Many of my friends who have small children complain that they need patience. Those who know the Scriptures often say, “Do not pray for patience” because we know how God develops it from this verse:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience . . .” (Romans 5:3, KJV)

Praying for patience (or persevering endurance) is asking for trouble! James also wrote that we need to be joyful in trials because this is how we become fully mature — and patient. No wonder I’ve often heard, “Be careful what you pray for!”

From personal experience, I have another example. This one is asking God to reveal what stands in the way of being more like Jesus. I will pray that prayer, but I also know that I need to duck after praying it. He answers quickly and the truth is often painful. This indicates that my heart is not quite as contrite as God wants it to be. Instead of wanting to hide, I need to always be glad that God is dealing with my sin. Not only that, this is the attitude to have. With this willingness to see me sin, I know God is with me . . .

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

Contrite’ comes from an English word that means bruised, feeling and showing sorrow for sin or shortcomings. It means the same in Hebrew and is associated with repentance. At times I’ve identified annoyingly over-confident people as having a need for brokenness. I’m often in that place myself. Unless there is brokenness and a contrite heart, I am in a state of trying to do things myself without relying on God.

Yesterday was filled with examples. Sigh. It was one of those days where I realized God is teaching me to go to Him for help and wisdom for even those tasks that I’ve done all my life without prayer or faith. Even knowing what was going on wasn’t much comfort. I was impatient with me instead of seeking the Lord. Finally, in the late afternoon my prayers of ‘help me’ started to go up and God showed me that this was His intention as I struggled. I just need to trust Him with everything, even the simple stuff.

Tozer writes today of people who only pray for revival when they feel weak and unable, when they deeply desire it. Sometimes those prayers are prompted by corruption in our society, but they ought to be the prayer of those whose hearts are broken over their own sin. I cannot speak for others or motivate them to seek God, only myself. At the same time, I know the cost and challenge of revival. When I pray for it, do I really want it?

Tozer says, “It may be said without qualification that every man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be.” That is true, yet I cannot make Him fill me. I can only block Him, turn Him aside, say NO to the voice of God.

What kind of person would I be if I was more cooperative? Perhaps that is the problem. I’ve a notion of how a revived Christian would act, and what changes could happen. Revival seems to involve more change, more unselfishly directed energy, and a deeper trust that I can imagine myself having. This is one more situation where I am careful what I pray for!

^^^^^^^^

Lord Jesus, when You ask me to trust You and I simply forget, or forge ahead thinking I can do things apart from total reliance on You, it reveals my need for a more contrite heart, a lowly spirit, a greater filling by Your Spirit. When I feel weak and unable and still refuse to pray, my need for those things intensifies. When I would rather sleep than pray, waste time than follow Your leading, I learn that I’m not even close to the trusting, revived person that You want me to be.

January 14, 2018

Sunday Worship

At the outset of this series, we said we wanted to focus on the broader meaning of the word worship and not limit it to music in the church. However, I found this article yesterday while spending much time in the archives of the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While it appears on the surface to apply only to those who lead us at weekend services, I believe there are some broader principles we can extract from this as we serve and honor God in various ways. The author is Dr. Scott Connell, Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”
  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

November 24, 2017

Under Authority

Another first-time author here. Mark DuPré is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives on the other side of Lake Ontario to us, in Rochester, NY. This article appeared at his blog and is actually indicated as a part one in a series, so besides our usual encouragement to “click the title below to read this at source,” you might want to return to use the link below to navigate to subsequent installments.

Authority, Part 1

Luke 7:8-9 For I [the centurion] also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

Romans 13:1-7 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves…. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake… Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Jesus is recorded as marveling only twice. Once was at the unbelief demonstrated at his hometown of Nazareth. The other time was at the faith of a Gentile soldier, whom Jesus recognized as having faith greater than that of His own people. Specifically, the centurion’s demonstration of faith was based on his understanding of authority. He was a man who moved in his own authority, and was recognized as a man of authority. He knew how to take orders and how to give them. He recognized in Jesus someone with authority like him, but with power much greater than his own.

Israel was often rebuked by God for her rebelliousness, and it’s clearly an aspect of human nature that is evident from Adam to the present. But we live in a particularly rebellious age, when even the idea of authority is under great attack. The very word “authority” is often expressed and often received as if it had the word “abusive” in front of it. But as we can see, the concept of authority is from God Himself (Romans 13:1b: “For there is no authority except from God.”).

We can wring our hands over the misuse of authority all we want—and there will always be plenty of evidence for hand wringing—but the idea of authority is from God. So as disciples of Jesus Christ we must come to terms with what authority is, how it’s manifested in this earth, and how we are supposed to deal with it.

The first issue with authority, however, is not a mental understanding of its various manifestations. It’s getting it straight in our hearts that we are to submit to or work with authority where we find it. Since authority is from God, it is to be honored. It is to be adjusted to, perhaps even bowed to in our hearts. There will be little true revelation of authority in our lives if we haven’t settled it that authority is an aspect of God worthy of our efforts to understand it the best we can, with the goal of recognizing it, submitting to it, and glorifying God in the process.

The attack on the idea of authority is, at its foundation, an attack on God, as authority is from Him. The great struggle for many of us is the constant parade of abuses of it in history and even in our own lives. But man’s misuse of God’s authority doesn’t negate its reality. Neither should we let it blind us to where God’s authority is in our lives, so we may rightly position ourselves before Him and reap the rewards that come with faithfulness.

While much of the rest of the world is blind to authority, dismissive of it, or even rebellious against it, the Christian should be eager to locate God’s authority in every aspect of his/her life. We should be eager to use that authority to bless and just as eager to submit to authority as unto the Lord.

Prayer: Father, cleanse my heart of the rebellion that comes to the surface when I consider the issue of authority in my life. I repent of using man’s misuse of authority as an excuse not to follow You in that area. Help me to see where You’ve placed authority in my life, and help me to honor You in working with it.

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

September 21, 2017

Being Good While Being Yourself

by Clarke Dixon

“Just be yourself!”

This is a message often heard in today’s society. “Be authentic, be genuine, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to change!” The Christian message seems to be the exact opposite with the instruction “be transformed” (Romans 12:2), a call to repentance, and testimonies of changed lives. It seems like acceptance of who you are clashes with needing change. Which is the better path? Romans 12:9-21 will help us figure this out.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)

At first glance this might seem like a list of unrelated life-instructions. However, there are some common threads which will help us navigate the tension between self-acceptance and the need to change. Let us take a look:

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHARACTER.

Notice that there is no call to change one’s personality in Romans 12. A change in character is what is called for. This is not a change in identity, so that you are no longer authentically you, but a change in character, so that you are a better you. I am, and have always been, a quiet, shy person. The Lord did not ask me to become a naturally outgoing person when He called me to follow Christ.

We want to be careful here not to mix up personality traits with character traits and so miss an opportunity for growth. For example, many people describe themselves as being impatient people, as if impatience were a mark of their personality and something that cannot change. However, anything that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23) is something God can and will help us change. As we sort out which of our “quirks” are personality traits that make us unique, and which are sins that keep us from being like Christ, let us remember that being a Christian is not a call away from authenticity, but a call to character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT OUR MINDS BEING RENEWED (BUT NOT REMOVED) BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul is fleshing out 12:1,2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word behind “renew” has the idea of “making new again”. It is not a complete replacement, but rather a renovation. To renovate a home is a very different thing from demolishing it to build a completely different home. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and Paul. There is nothing to make us suspect that their personalities changed from before they knew Christ to after. We do see them change in very important ways, but they are still very much Peter and Paul. They are still very unique individuals. Discipleship in the Christian life is not like assimilation into the Borg in Star Trek, but rather becoming more like Jesus in our character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT RESPONDING TO THE TEACHING OF JESUS.

Romans 12:9-21 feels familiar. These are things that Jesus taught about, and demonstrated in his own life. It begins with love in verse 9: “Let love be genuine”. It includes non-retaliation, putting into practice turning the other cheek, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated. Someone might point out here that Jesus taught that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow. Does that not mean giving up our individuality? In calling us to pick up our cross and follow, Jesus was not calling upon us to give up our identity as being unique in the universe, but to give up a desire to be the centre of the universe. In doing so, you will still be very much you, with all your quirks that make you interesting and unique. But you will be a better you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOOD OVER EVIL

All of Romans 12:9-21 is framed by the the opportunity to choose good over evil as reflected in verses 9 and 21: “. . . hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. This is where “just be yourself” does not actually work. Such a sentiment must always be qualified. In watching the Emmy’s recently I did not hear anyone say anything like “Isn’t it wonderful how Donald Trump is comfortable in his own skin? Isn’t it great that he is just being himself?”. No one is saying that about Kim Jong-un either. At the end of the day, all people want everyone else to be good and not evil. All people want others, if they insist on being themselves, to be their better selves. Unfortunately, most people want to go with their own definitions of good and evil. However, the Christian life leads us to God’s definitions of good and evil, plus God’s empowerment to choose to do good rather than evil.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL.

Romans 12:2 does not say “no longer be conformed to your own identity” but “do not be conformed to this age”. Simply put, be yourself, but be your better self, and so stick out like a sore thumb. Those who live the kinds of lives that reflect Romans 12:9-21 will surely do so.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING SALT AND LIGHT IN SOCIETY.

While there is disagreement on how to get there, people naturally long for a better society. Romans 12:9-12 gives some very practical ways of getting there. Just imagine the impact if people were to live like these verses describe. The effect of a renewed mind is much better than the effect of being conformed to the current age. As our relationship with Christ leads to our minds being renewed, people will take notice. How could anyone not respond positively to genuine love (verse 9), hospitality (verse 13), being blessed instead of being cursed (verse 14), care for the downtrodden (verse 15), non-retaliation (verses 17 and following), and being with people who are peaceable (verse 18)? We should note here that we are to think on “what is noble in the sight of all” (verse17). The world is watching, even longing for, a changed people to show the way.

CONCLUSION

Society does not actually say “just be yourself”, it says “be yourself, unless we don’t like you, or there is something about you we think should change”. Jesus says I love you, no matter what you are currently like. I have already demonstrated that love by bearing the cross for you”. Now that is true acceptance, and by Someone whose acceptance of us really matters! When you experience acceptance by God, get ready to be changed, not that you are no longer you, but that you are a better you. Not only are you transformed by the renewing of your mind, but the world around you will begin changing for the better too. So be yourself! But be a God-filled changing-in-great-ways self!


August 26, 2017

OMG: Hearing it and Saying It

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

This week I had a discussion with someone on the topic of knowing God by his name. At one very brief point in the conversation, this person surprised me by saying they were not particularly offended by people saying “Oh, my God” or using the printed form, “OMG,” because unless identified or qualified, the God we serve is not necessarily the one being referenced. It may be the third of the Ten Commandments being broken if the reference is to something else.

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

It’s easy to take offense at the use of this phrase, because we are often taking it personally, but there’s no guarantee that it’s our God they’re talking about. For example, I have often lamented the general nature the term “god” (lower case) has and in so doing I appeal to this quotation by E. Stanley Jones, which regular readers here have seen before:

“When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ”

In other words, while the Old Testament points to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (see Exodus 3:6, 3:15, 3:16, 4:5 for the specific phrase in the KJV; and also look at these references) in the New Testament we speak of “the God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” That’s our God.

So on the one hand, I despair over the need to so clearly define who the God is of which we speak, and yet on the other hand I also find the “OMG” phrase to totally grate on me; but I’ve never really held the two situations in tension. The result I suppose is to be able relax a little and grant the non-churched person (or the non-Jesus-follower, or the secularist) using the phrase some grace.

…Unless…

The problem comes when believers use such phrases. (See our first key verse above.) Has that happened to you?

We covered this topic here before in a 2012 article called Exemplary Speech. In it, the writer quoted these key verses; notice the references to speech:

Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:11-13

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech. 1 Peter 3:10

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-11

As I’ve written previously, “OMG” and it’s equivalent are a line I simply will not cross, but it’s become increasingly common to hear believers lapse into using the phrase or typing the acronym.  For us, “God” is the God of Abraham; is the God revealed in Jesus. It should hurt us when we hear another Christian fall into the cultural speech pattern of using this and we ought to gently correct them.

With a non-believer, we actually have an Evangelistic opportunity presented to us. Like the Apostle Paul’s speech at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22ff, we can say, to paraphrase him, ‘This God who you make reference to without really knowing him…allow me to introduce you!’


Postscript: The person with whom I had the discussion skirts the problem entirely; when reading a passage of scripture together this week, he glossed over the word God in the text, substituting “The Most High.”

July 31, 2017

A Gentle Spirit; An Honest Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Partners in Hope Today, a website we last connected with over four years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  We offer you two shorter readings today, but click the titles for each in order to see the graphic images or link to the audio versions.

The Beauty of a Quiet and Gentle Spirit

While it is important to show gentleness towards those we are in contact with, it’s also essential that we learn how to treat ourselves with gentleness.  That doesn’t mean that we look for a “softer gentler way” that avoids issues and allows us to continue in whatever is convenient and comfortable, but is ultimately harmful.  It does mean that we seek gentleness everywhere we find ourselves.

God invites us to a lifestyle of gentleness where we respect truth, respect the dignity of everyone including ourselves, and delight in the joy and wonder of each new day.  Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight.  (Psalm 119:77 NLT)

Gentleness helps us admit that we are struggling and it’s okay to seek help.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.  (Psalm 103:4 NLT)

Gentleness is protected by the setting of safe boundaries in relationships.  Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.  (Psalm 40:11 NLT)

Gentleness is often experienced in our spirit when we take the time to slow down and notice life around us – a flower on a summer day; a baby in a stroller; the aroma of food; the beautiful colours in the sky as the sun goes down.  God has made everything beautiful for its own time. The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Psalm 19:1 NLT)

Gentleness in us flows and grows as we sit quietly and have a conversation with God.  Just reading the Bible often brings peace and gentleness to our souls and when we speak to God in response to what He is conveying to us in His Word, a gentleness of spirit seems to wrap itself around our hearts.  Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.  (Deuteronomy 32:2 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to live in the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that comes from within and which is precious in Your sight.  AMEN  

Freedom Through Telling the Truth

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

How hard would it be to trust such a power if we thought he was a liar?  How could we even think about turning our will and our life over to his care?  Fortunately, one of our Heavenly Father’s basic characteristics is truth.  In fact, it is impossible for God to lie.  We can completely depend on every word God says and every promise He gives us.

It is impossible for God to lie.  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. (Hebrews 6:18, John 14:6 NLT, Romans 3:4 CEV)

God always speaks truth, even difficult truths, but does it with such kindness and love that it draws our heart closer to Him rather than driving us away from Him.  There’s a story in the Bible in John 4 that tells about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who was hiding the truth.  Jesus engaged her in conversation and revealed the complete truth about her life’s circumstances, which weren’t all that great.  Amazingly, in just a few minutes that woman, who had lived in shame in her community for years because of her circumstances, ran back to town and invited everyone to come and hear Jesus because He had revealed everything that had happened to her:  Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?  (John 4:29 NLT)

When God, who loves us unconditionally, speaks truth to us, life and hope and a desire for healing fills our hearts.  God’s wants to reveal the deception and lies we’ve been told by society and those we’ve lived under, because lies always harm and drag us down.  God wants to set us free from the bondage of lying, lift us up, and draw us closer to Himself.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! (Isaiah 5:18 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for always speaking the truth in love to me.  Help me to live in the freedom of always speaking truth to you, to myself, and to others.  AMEN

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